Sunday, April 15, 2007

Review - Crusaders of Space 2

Crusaders of Space 2 is great, make no mistake about it, but the hardest thing is describing exactly what it is.

You could say it’s a scrolling shooter – except it doesn’t scroll. Perhaps a Space Invaders inspiration? Except…enemies don’t so much “invade” as hang back in constant long-range attack.
Crusaders of Space 2
Basically, it’s something of a hybrid concept in space shooters – a fixed-screen battle with scroller sensibilities, if you will. The player’s ship is only moveable left and right so, hemmed in at the very bottom of the screen, the need for accuracy (and, often, just pure luck) is paramount as streams of bullets flash across the play area, only avoidable by a quick flick of the mouse in one of the two possible directions.

Mouse control, in fact, is another interesting factor in Crusaders of Space 2’s success, allowing subtlety or rapidity of motion as and when required, with a real fluidity of movement on the ship at all times. Further, with the only other commands in the game being firing of the primary laser weapon and a secondary missile, the entire game can be controlled with the convenience of the mouse, making piloting the ship such a delightful no-brainer one can quickly commit all concentration to the battle in hand.
Crusaders of Space 2
And what a battle. Beginning with little more than a single shot pop gun and weak missiles, one wonders how on earth this game is to be survived, as barrages of enemies swoop in to take increasingly merciless pot shots at your lone, underpowered craft. Progress is slow and painstaking until finally - and delightfully - after five levels or so, another peculiarity of this game is presented – the upgrade system.

Imagine the usual R-Type style weapon upgrades except with permanent effect (remaining even after the loss of a life), and a choice of what to add next via an “upgrade points” system. Alawar have added such a range of choice in upgrades that there truly are defined routes through these decisions: should you upgrade weapons first, and if so, should this be the power of the standard straight forward laser, or extra (but weaker) diagonal shots instead? Or should you use points to upgrade the ship’s armour capacity (slightly useless since in-game armour bonuses are so rare) but in doing so unlock the eventual health regeneration feature (invaluable)? Alawar have clearly taken a nod from RPG titles such as Final Fantasy X, and combining this “levelling up” philosophy with a retro-styled space shooter is nothing short of genius, adding immense replay value as well as the satisfaction of total control over your playing style.
Crusaders of Space 2
The graphics and sound are as polished as the concept. Sumptuous, well-rendered backdrops of space, landscapes and eerie bionic machinery perfectly compliment professional, realistically animated enemy sprites. The player ship itself is a highly detailed polygonal structure which even tilts subtly left and right as it moves. A 16 million colour palette is used to the full, with glorious streams of purple, green, red and yellow laser fire burning and glowing their way across the screen, overlapping to create new and wonderful hues. Explosion sounds are meaty and boisterous, ammo powerups engage with a satisfying “ker-klunk”, and all this is backed up with a quality techno-based soundtrack that, while only offering a few tunes, is pleasant enough to provide satisfying, unobtrusive battle accompaniment.

Criticisms? Often it’s necessary to play ten or more levels before the game autosaves, and with something as inherently “pick up and play” as a space shooter, this necessity to put in the hours can sometimes frustrate. There’s also the rather odd fact that, though there are six ships to collect as the game advances, each vessel differs only in aesthetics. Though it’s possible to select any of the available ships at each visit to the upgrade screen, they all handle in exactly the same way, with no variation in speed, weapons load-out or defence capability. Regardless, it’s still pleasant to change once in a while, but one wonders if Alawar originally had more involved plans for the extra ships.

In summary, Crusaders of Space 2 holds true to traditional space shooter ethics, combining sub-genres with relative ease. Add to this a twist of RPG player development, with graphics and sound of the highest quality, and Alawar are onto a real winner. Most definitely recommended.

Score - 9/10

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